Simon Moore: architect turned Highbury Arts Club boss

Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 33 seconds

Everyone has a story. Architect Simon Moore spent most of his working life designing and building huge modern buildings – from the Eden Project in Cornwall to underground tube stations – until his dream to run a neighbourhood restaurant where people meet up for tasty plates of food could no longer be resisted. Find out more in this interview by Nicola Baird & Isabel VanderGert-Wilson.

Simon MooreSimon Moore: my big ideas is that Highbury Arts Club is a neighbourhood restaurant; a local hub of food, people hanging out and creative moments like parties, music and art.

Simon Moore at the Highbury Arts Club.

“I’d worked as an architect since university, often working from my home in Gillespie Road. I liked to go out to Litro on Drayton Park with its eclectic mix of music and good beer. It wasn’t a pub or a restaurant but it started me thinking about doing something a bit less solitary,” says Simon Moore from the bright corner of his new venture, the Highbury Arts Club.

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Simon Moore from Highbury Arts Club: We get a very interesting mix – Highburians who’ve lived in Highbury for a long time, often arts people and younger people, in their 30s, who are very open to new places and new ways of doing things.” (c) Highbury Arts Club

Simon Moore from Highbury Arts Club: “We get a very interesting mix – Highburians who’ve lived in Highbury for a long time, often arts people and younger people, in their 30s, who are very open to new places and new ways of doing things.” (c) Highbury Arts Club

Back in the 1920s this was a shoe shop run by, as the just-visible sign says, F J Bullings. More recently the building on the corner of Highbury Park and Lucerne Road has been an Italian deli – famously frequented by Tony Blair during his Highbury days. It then became the Clock Café until Simon took on the lease in 2013 to create a neighbourhood restaurant.

“I wanted somewhere to go in the evening where you could drink or eat. I like the idea of small plates of food and could have settled on Swedish or Italian dishes but it’s ended up being tapas – which I really like,” he says.

Blueberry cake with toasted walnuts made by Tomoko. (c) Highbury Arts Club

Blueberry cake with toasted walnuts made by Tomoko. (c) Highbury Arts Club

Highbury Arts Club serves Square Mile roasted coffee, sourced near Borough Market, and delicious cakes – made by barista/chef Tomoko – by day.

At the weekend it’s all about brunch, and from Tuesday-Saturday evenings you can pop in for pincho (small tapas plates of chorizo, tortilla, peppers and cheese at around £5) and specials such as cuttle fish. Drinks include fresh juice mixes, craft lager (eg, Organic Freedom beer) and organic or biodynamic European wines.

“We only use European wines – from France, Portugal, Spain and Italy –  to help the European wine industry. It seems crazy to ship new world wines. Our wines are from  sustainable viniculture and mostly organic or with as few additives as possible. You’ll be able to try wines here that you won’t get in the supermarket,” says Simon.

With only room for 32 what makes Highbury Arts Club special is the communal table and the home-cooked food. “I’m really interested in art and music so as an architect I’ve tried to put every idea into one little room,” says Simon laughing as he admits, “it’s a bit bonkers!” But the result is live music on Thursdays and one Wednesday a month there’s comedy from Shake the Tree by Islington locals Sarah Sheldon and Nalika de Silva.

Some nights the venue is booked out for a party. “People say they feel completely at home because it feels like a large room in your own house,” adds Simon.

Tapas. (c) Highbury Arts Club

Simon Moore: “At Highbury Arts Club we specialisie in breakfasts and tapas. We only serve organic chicken, free range eggs, free range pork and fresh fish. I don’t sell prawns because the sourcing is so uncertain – it’s a shame as I really like them. As much as we can we ethically source.”                          (c) Highbury Arts Club


Places Simon Moore likes in Islington

  • 20150610_103757I remember getting on the 19 bus without knowing where it went. Then it went up Blackstock Road and I saw all these brightly coloured shops. A couple of years later my partner and I were looking for a place and ended up on Gillespie Road, close to the 19 route.
  •  I play a lot of tennis at Highbury Fields. My two sons grew up on Highbury fields kicking a football around.”
  •  I really enjoy football days. The football crowd often books ahead and will have a nice meal here before the game.
  •  My favourite café in the area is the Japanese café, Little Gem, on Corsica Street.
  • Dotori, the Korean restaurant at Finsbury Park is good.
  • For fish I go to Billingsgate and use local suppliers – Meek and Wilde and for meat Smithfield Market and David at Highbury Butchers (see the interview published on Islington Faces with David Mayers here). I get vegetables from Seasons & Blossoms, 92 Highbury Park, and Mrs Lovells’ Greengrocers, as well as markets.
  • I used to organise the Jazz on a Summer’s Day at the Sailing Club, on the West Reservoir. For £140 a year you can sail and get all the kit – you don’t need to buy a boat or even a wetsuit.
There's jazz most Thursday nights from 7.45pm. (c) Highbury Arts Club

There’s jazz most Thursday nights from 7.45pm. (c) Highbury Arts Club

The artistic atmosphere gets an extra fillip from its art wall, which carries a large gilded mirror and an empty frame unless there’s an exhibition. The next exhbition will be by Hendrik Wittkopf starting July (2015).

Architectural details. (c) Highbury Arts Club

Architectural details. (c) Highbury Arts Club

It’s a big change from Simon’s architecture career which included projects all over the world including Australia and more recently working on the award-winning Biljmer station in Holland, close to Ajax’s ground in Amsterdam. He was also on the team that won a coveted RIBA award for UCL’s Cancer Institute on Huntley Street. Simon has also worked on the Jubilee line extension underground stations at Waterloo, London Bridge and Southwark. “London Bridge is full of vaults, some 10m high and huge. We were told one was where the Queen kept her wine, but the bottles were moved out so we could build the station,” says Simon. “The Jubilee extension is very contemporary – the tunnels were the largest ever built in London at the time -and there are screen doors. It was specifically done to regenerate the areas it went through.”

Now he’s using the same mindset to give Highbury a community focus. “My big ideas is this is a local hub of food with people hanging out enjoying creative moments like parties, music and food,” he explains. And he’s on the look out for more ways people can use Highbury Arts Club to enjoy themselves. “We could have poetry evenings or film clubs meeting here,” he says pointing to the fitting for a projector on the ceiling.

Tomoko makes and sells mini booklets about a barista-chef's life.

Barista & cake baker Tomoko makes and sells sweet booklets about a barista-chef’s life.

In many ways Simon’s already achieved his dream: his neighbourhood restaurant is all about food and chat. “I didn’t realise how much I was going to enjoy hospitality,” says Simon who is up at the Highbury Arts Club most nights, although he also employs eight people – deliberately picking artists, musicians and jewellery makers with a bent for barista work and chefing because they “are such good performers in careers where it is quite hard to make a living.”

Highbury Arts Club is a lovely place to visit whether for coffee and chef Tomoko’s famous cakes on a sunny morning or an evening sharing tapas and wine. And it’s a friendly place  – one of the few you can go to in Islington and know that you’ll be able to join in a conversation (if you want to!).

Over to you
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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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